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Bomb crew describes mission to blow up Saddam

WASHINGTON—Fred Swan, a lieutenant colonel in the Air Force, a weapons systems operator on a B-1 Lancer bomber, is the man who dropped the bombs that U.S. officials hoped would kill Saddam Hussein.

He said he got an "adrenaline rush" when orders came for his plane, which was already in the air, to veer away from a planned bombing run and hit a "leadership target" in Baghdad.

"What I was thinking was, ` this could be the big one. Let's make sure we get it right,' " Swan said in a matter-of-fact tone as he talked by telephone Tuesday to reporters at the Pentagon.

Swan said 12 minutes elapsed from the time that the orders were received until the bombs landed, about 2 p.m. Monday Iraq time, in the upscale al Mansour neighborhood of Iraq's capital.

"We really didn't have time to reflect on anything until after the bomb run was done," Swan said. " And then, coming off target. I personally was never prouder to be in the Air Force."

It's rare for the military to identify people who've participated in bomb runs, perhaps to shield them from potential reprisals if they're shot down and captured.

But on Tuesday, the Pentagon identified all four men aboard the B-1 that carried out the strike on what U.S. officials said might have been a meeting of Saddam, his sons, Odai and Qusai, and other key officials.

The men on the B-1 are members of the 34th Bomb Squadron of the 28th Air Wing, based at Ellsworth Air Force Base, S.D. The military did not give their ages or hometowns.

The identifications may reflect growing U.S. confidence. Maj. Gen. Stanley McChrystal, a Pentagon spokesman, declared Tuesday that the United States and Britain had established air supremacy over Iraq, which he said meant that "the enemy is incapable of effective interference with coalition air operations."

Capt. Chris Wachter, the B-1 pilot, said: "It's a good feeling to have the bombs come off the jet, because you know that you are aiding someone, somewhere, by striking a target."

That good feeling "lasts about, oh, three seconds." Then, he said, "you want to bring your plane back home so your friends in the squadron can fly it next day."

The other crewmen were Capt. Sloan Hollis, co-pilot, and Lt. Joe Runci, another weapons systems officer.

Swan described how the B-1 had refueled from an airborne tanker when it was alerted to the "leadership target" and given the map coordinates by an E-3 Sentry (AWACs) plane.

"There's generally special forces or somebody on the ground that they can see the target," he said.

Flying at nearly 500 mph, more than 20,000 feet above ground, the B-1 headed east. Swan punched the bomb coordinates into the plane's computer and set the target.

The B-1 carried 24 GBU-31s, gravity bombs equipped with tail kits that turn them into satellite-guided weapons.

Four bombs were dropped. The first two were "hard-target penetrators" that were designed to go 10 to 20 feet into the ground before exploding. The second pair, dropped three seconds later, carried fuses to make them go off 25 milliseconds after impact.

The crew dropped 17 more bombs on two unrelated targets.

Wachter said that when they got back, they saw on TV the damage they had done in Baghdad.

"That shows a 100 percent surgical strike properly executed with the proper weapon," Wachter said. "And we're all real proud of that."


(c) 2003, Knight Ridder/Tribune Information Services.

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